April 25, 2008

Being Good With Yoga

I took a look in the mirror Monday morning and didn't like what I saw. Since then I've been trying to make lower-fat and healthier choices for meals. Particularly when eating out in a restaraunt, it's difficult to avoid the fatty foods that I love so well. Last night, one of my dinner companions offered to share some of his dessert with me and damn, did it look good. But I exercised my will power and said no.

I also got out The Wife's yoga mat and pushed aside some of the furniture in the living room. Now, I don't know if yoga still suffers from the stereotypes of being a rather, shall we say, feminine kind of activity. It shouldn't. Every morning I've been doing ten to fifteen minutes of yoga. It's quite physically challenging, especially for a doughy guy like me who spends most of his day typing on one or another computer. The exercise leaves me sweating and tired.

Still, I need some guidance because I know very little about this sort of thing. I started out with a Yoga For Dummies book and gave that up, because it spent way too much time talking about the spirituality and ways to unleash your prana and connect with the greater energies flowing from the universe through your body. Thanks, but that's not what I'm looking for. I want to do some exercise, damnit, not commune with nature.

I also found some brief videos on YouTube with astonishingly skinny and lithe models -- attractive and yes, they demonstrated the various poses, but the three minutes of workout they described wasn't enough. And most of the internet resources described rather open-ended routines and there were plenty of invitations to "make your own routine that works for you." No. I need more guidance than that. I want someone to put together a routine for me. And I don't want any of the spiritualism, I want to know that I'm doing the right thing for my body. If there are spiritual benefits to the exercise, then presumably they will flow from the exercise.

So I figured, maybe Yoga for Regular Guys is the way to go. The book and the accompanying programs are produced and presumably written by a former pro wrestler. So occasionally it's a bit lowbrow and profane (it just goes right ahead and calls your ass your "ass" instead of your "bottom" or your "buttocks") but hey, along with that you get pictures of "yoga babes."

For me, the unusual best feature of this guidebook, written by a former pro wrestler, is that one of the yoga models is a guy who looks something like me -- a little bit heavy and dorky-looking. In a profound way, it's the most inspiring part of the book. It tells me that I don't have to be a cut twenty-five year old with a six-pack below my ribcage to do this. It's harder still for for me to relate to the rail-thin runway models that graced most of the yoga books and I looked at. No, I like the sorta-stocky guy who's doing it anyway, especially when I found out that he started out not just stocky but morbidly obese and lost over a hundred pounds doing this. That's somebody I can take inspiration from.

Also of great use in this program is that the author(s) have renamed a lot of the poses from the traditional indian names to things that are going to be more familiar to American men -- for instance, Urdhva Hastasana, a simple enough pose where you plant your feet directly below your shoulders, and raise your arms parallel to one another as far as you can. Problem is, I don't speak Hindi. I will never remember the phrase Urdhva Hastasana. But I know what the signal for "touchdown" is. Pretty much all American guys know that, and it's the same pose. That's the sort of touch that I would expect from a guy who made a living as a pro wrestler -- as an entertainer, he understands what his audience can relate to. And it really does make the routine easier to not be thinking about how in the hell do I pronounce that unfamiliar-looking word or trying to "feel" an unmeasurable, undefined "energy," and instead to focus on the isometric exercise that turns out to get a decent amount of sweat out after only a few minutes.

There is a bit of equipment that I need, a heart monitor. The overall exercise program tries to keep the heart rate at a weight loss rate, which actually is not all that high. I'll get the heart monitor next weekend after I master at least the basic routine; I still need to interrupt the routine to consult the book, and would like to be able to make it all the way through the twenty-minute workout without changing poses to turn the pages.

My biggest challenge has been realizing that all my life, I've been breathing wrong. I mentioned this to The Wife, and she was amazed that I breathe the way I do. When I breathe in, I constrict my diaphragm and inflate my rib cage. When I exhale, I relax my diapragm and my belly protrudes more because of it. Turns out that this is exactly opposite of the way you should breathe during yoga -- your belly should inflate as breath comes in, and you should suck in that big, beautiful belly when you exhale. (I also take faster, shallower breaths, the result of a lifetime of nasal congestion caused by active sinuses and allergies.) This is exactly opposite of my instinctual behavior, and between trying to remember the next series of poses and trying to consciously control my gut while I breathe, it's actually quite a challenge to do this right.

I like it, at least so far, so hopefully that means I stick with it. But I do miss the yummy, fatty foods.

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